In this ninth post in my pre-viva series, I will be discussing and reflecting upon how intention and attention manifest themselves in my practice.  I have previously published a number of reflective pieces on the subject.

A Journey into Being

Thinking Fast and Slow in Photography

Paying Attention to our Senses in the Natural World

Thought Piece 17 – Activation and Attenuation in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 22 – Attentiveness in Object-Oriented Photography

Attentiveness and the Present

Paying Attention to Texture and Touch

In the Onion Diagram below, which is a ten-signifier representation of the drivers of my photographic practice, you will see that attentiveness occurs but not intention.  The topic for this post came from my reflections on a long walk through the foothills of the Cuillin a couple of weeks ago, during which my mind wandered subconsciously to consider these two approaches together.  I will deal with intention first and briefly and then continue to a rather more reflective piece about attentiveness in my practice.

The Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram


Good practice in art, in whatever form, is often seen as being clear about our intention, having a focus as to how the project will develop, and a sense of how the end result might be produced and presented – very much like a practice-based PhD.  While the idea for the project might come in a flash of inspiration, the conscious brain will take over in putting flesh on the bare bones.  As to what might transpire as the practice in pursuit of a goal or focus begins, the work itself is often seen as more creative for its lack of intent in a moment or period in time.  It seems to me that it is impossible to remove intent from our practice.  I make conscious decisions about the location, my position within the landscape, the lens I have on my camera and at least initially, the technical settings.  I might have also looked at the weather forecast, the direction of the wind and the levels of water in the loch.  However, once I am set up and sitting, watching, and waiting I hope to induce a less conscious and a temporal state.


I have been cautious in my practice in encouraging conscious attention or adopting mindfulness practices as I feared that such techniques might encourage me to dwell on elements of sensory perception such as colour, shape and textures, thus returning me to a rather more phenomenological approach and away from Being.  I was encouraged by Nan Shepherd’s words which suggest that attention was over time a means to approach, in her case, the Being of the mountain. However, in my early thinking, I made the mistake of using the term “consciousness” to explain a human state of mind, rather than to make the distinction between “conscious” and “non-consciousness awareness”.  Unthought -The Power of the Cognitive Non-Conscious by Katherine Hayles (2017) helped me to understand the error in my thinking as she described a world of conscious and non-conscious thought within the consciousness of a human mind.  Furthermore, she provided me with a better understanding of how dominant non-conscious thought is, within the context of the totality of the brain, forming over ninety-five per cent of our functioning.  Daniel Kahneman (2012) like Hayles writes in terms of two modes of brain operations, one slow, logical and deliberative and the other more akin to what I describe in my practice is instinctive, intuitive, emotional and very quick

In terms of my practice, I began to develop my ability to attend closely to things and focus more intensely when looking through the viewfinder.  This intense scrutiny also led me to spend more time in the same locations, over many hours, days, weeks, and months, finding a rhythm and allowing myself to drop into a more non-conscious state of mind.  Much like mulling things over as we drive our car, I began to use my camera as a means to drift into a world of entangled Being.  And like the car scenario where we might not be able to recall our journey, when I return to a fully conscious state in the field, I often do not recall the non-conscious changes I make to the settings of my camera, nor indeed why I chose to press the shutter when I did.  These actions are conducted intuitively without conscious intervention.  Similarly, I have access at a non-conscious level to the signifiers of the Onion Diagram.

After many reflections on these issues, I finally believe I can be clear about how attentiveness is a driver of my practice and the part it plays in inducing a sense of dwelling in the landscape.



Hayles, N. K. (2017). Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking Fast and Slow. London, Penguin.


Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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